For the Knicks, the hype and hoopla surrounding the NBA Draft at Barclays Center had already seemed like a backup plan even as the prospects were already in their suits making their way through the red carpet and into the Barclays Center. Rebuilding for the Knicks was, despite the words of team president Leon Rose, on a fast track.
After weeks of rumors of efforts to move up in the draft, the Knicks instead traded out of the first round of the draft and set the stage for a free agent pursuit of the point guard they have had their eyes on for a long time - Jalen Brunson.
The Knicks selected Ousmane Dieng at No. 11, but the pick was not theirs, shipping Dieng to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for three conditional future first-round picks. But before the booing had even settled at Barclays, the Knicks were shipping one of those first-round picks - Denver’s 2023 first-rounder acquired in the prior deal - along with their own 2023 and 2024 first-round picks in a three-team deal that allowed them to get rid of Kemba Walker and his expiring contract to the Detroit Pistons.
That will also reportedly see the Pistons acquire the draft rights to No. 13 overall pick Jalen Duren from Charlotte, according to multiple reports. The 2025 Milwaukee pick - protected 1-4 - is coming to the Knicks in the Duren trade from Detroit.
The moves, no first-round pick on this year’s cap along with the departure of Walker’s $9.2 million, allowed the Knicks to drop down to $104 million in salary with a projected cap of $122 million and putting them in play for a free-agent pursuit with Brunson the most likely target. The Knicks now have their own first-round pick in next year’s draft along with the Mavericks' pick and now added protected first-rounders of Detroit and Washington.
In getting rid of Walker’s salary, the Knicks sent out the 2023 Denver first-round pick as well as three 2023 second-round picks — their own, along with Utah’s and either Dallas or Miami’s. The first-round pick the Knicks have coming from Detroit is protected for 1-18 in 2023 and 2024 with decreasing protections all the way to 2026. The Washington 2023 first has protections 1-14 and decreasing protections through 2026.
The intrigue for the draft began with the first pick when the Orlando Magic busted up mock drafts by selecting Duke’s Paolo Banchero. The Knicks had investigated a way to move up to No. 4 where they could have selected Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, but saw those players make their way to the stage while they remained at No. 11. The Sacramento Kings held the pick and took Keegan Murray, opening up another shot at No. 5 for the Knicks, but the Detroit Pistons held their place and selected Ivey.
“My agents control all that,” Ivey said. “They called me, told me what was going on in the loop, I didn’t dictate anything. I’m just so blessed to be a Piston. I’m looking forward to getting down there.”
While the future may be now for the Knicks, rather than take a player they weren’t sold on to add to a group that includes eight players 24 or younger they added more picks that they hope to turn into something useful.
The draft has been a particular source of pain for the Knicks and their fan base, from the lottery luck that has evaded them since that first one in 1985 to the near-misses, getting beat to Steph Curry, to their own misfires.
But if the Knicks entered the night considering Brunson or Malcolm Brogdon as trade targets, that took a backseat, too, as the Knicks found themselves on a list of teams that Kyrie Irving would accept as a destination for a sign-and-trade deal. The calculus of making a deal work is, well, as difficult as calculus.
The more likely way for the Knicks to recapture the sort of performance they had in the first year of the Leon Rose-Tom Thibodeau regime is with veteran help. It was the path the team took before that 41-31 season that had them In the postseason for the first time in eight years — with Derrick Rose joining at midseason and stabilizing the team.
The family ties with Brunson have fueled growing speculation that if the Knicks can clear salary cap space — dealing away some combination of Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel, most likely needing to attach draft picks to find a taker. His father, Rick Brunson, was just hired to join Thibodeau’s coaching staff, a role he’d served in Minnesota, and his agent is Sam Rose, the son of Leon Rose, at CAA. The Dallas Mavericks have openly expressed a desire to keep him in place.
The Knicks took Trevor Keels, a 6-3 freshman guard from Duke, with the 42nd pick.